Obesity on the Rise, High Levels of Undernutrition Persist in India

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What’s in Today’s Article?

  • Why in the News?
  • Meaning of Obesity & Undernutrition in Health-Related Studies
  • Key Highlights of the Study Published by the Lancet
  • Impact of Socio-economic Conditions on Obesity and Undernutrition
  • Impact of Obesity & Undernutrition on Health
  • Way Ahead

Why in News?

  • According to a new study published by the Lancet, India has become one of the countries with a high “double burden,” of Obesity and Undernutrition.

Meaning of Obesity & Undernutrition in Health-Related Studies:

  • Obesity:
    • According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), obesity is an abnormal or excessive accumulation of fat that poses health risks.
    • Adults — anyone over the age of 20 years — are considered to be obese, if they have a body mass index (BMI) of 30 kg/m2 or more.
      • BMI is a person’s weight in kilograms divided by the square of height in meters, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
    • School-aged children and adolescents — anyone between the ages of 5 and 19 years — are considered obese, if their BMI is two standard deviations above the mean.
  • Underweight:
    • Underweight is one of the four broad sub-forms of undernutrition.
    • An adult is considered underweight if their BMI is less than 18 kg/m2.
    • School-aged children and adolescents are considered underweight if their BMI is two standard deviations below the mean.

Key Highlights of the Study Published by the Lancet

  • Obesity in India:
    • Obesity in women has spiked in the past three decades — it increased from 1.2% in 1990 to 9.8% in 2022, according to the study.
    • There were 44 million women living with obesity in 2022.
    • Meanwhile, obesity in men increased by 4.9 percentage points during the same period, with 26 million men living with obesity in 2022.
    • Notably, there has also been a significant increase in childhood obesity.
    • There has been a spike of 3 percentage points in girls and 3.7 percentage points in boys over the 32 years that the study examined.
    • In 2022, 3.1% of girls and 3.9% of boys were obese.
  • Underweight in India:
    • Despite a significant decline, the prevalence of underweight and thinness continues to be high across genders and age groups.
    • The study found that 13.7% of women and 12.5% of men were underweight.
    • Thinness — a measure of being underweight in children — in Indian girls was found to be the highest in the world, with a prevalence of 20.3%.
    • And, it was the second highest in Indian boys, with a prevalence of 21.7%.
  • Why Women are more Obese than Men?
    • Women are more prone to putting on weight because most of them do not have access to or time for physical activities such as walks or gyms.
    • They are also likely to put the nutrition of the family above theirs.
    • if central obesity were to be considered, obesity in women would be as high as 40% to 50% in many parts of the country.
    • A better predictor of future risk of diseases like diabetes and hypertension, central obesity is an excess accumulation of fat in the abdominal area.

Impact of Socio-economic Conditions on Obesity and Undernutrition

  • Obesity is no longer the disease of the rich in India. Eating junk food is cheaper and easier.
    • For example, the cost of samosas and pakoras available at roadside shacks is less than fruit and vegetables. While it is not nutritious, it is tastier.
  • While it is affecting more people, there continues to be a rural-urban divide when it comes to obesity.
  • An analysis of the National Family Health Survey-5 (NFHS-5) data from last year shows that the prevalence of obesity was 31.7% in urban women and 19% in rural women.
    • It was 28.6% among urban men and 18.8% among rural men.
  • Undernutrition persists in extremely remote and rural parts of poorer states where access to any kind of food is low.
  • Undernutrition is prevalent in the extremely poor populations in states like Bihar, Jharkhand, or Odisha, where people might be eating just one meal a day.

Impact of Obesity & Undernutrition on Health

  • The health consequences of obesity are obvious. An increase in obesity, especially in children, is likely to lead to an increase in diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, heart attacks, and strokes.
  • The effect of undernutrition, however, is not so obvious. Undernutrition is likely to increase the burden of non-communicable diseases.
    • Non-communicable diseases are diseases that are not spread through infection or through other people, but are typically caused by unhealthy behaviors.

Way Ahead

  • Obesity and underweight should not be considered in isolation, according to the study.
  • As per the study, the underweight-obesity transition can occur rapidly, leaving their combined burden unchanged or higher.
  • It proposes that the focus has to be on programmes that enhance healthy nutrition.
    • These may include programmes such as targeted cash transfers, food assistance as subsidies or vouchers for healthy foods, free healthy school meals, and primary care-based nutritional interventions.
  • Other than ensuring food security, the study also mentioned that there is an urgent need for supporting weight loss in those with obesity.
  • Prevention and management are especially important because the age of onset of obesity has decreased, which increases the duration of exposure.

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Source: Obesity on the rise, high levels of undernutrition persist in India: What a new study says